[Excerpts from the popular outline of Party history was published in three parts in May, June and July 1993 issues of Liberation.]
Amidst the Great Debate in the international communist movement in the early ’60s, the first division occurred in the CPI in 1964 and the CPI(M) was born. Popularly the CPI was known to be pro-Russian and CPI(M) as pro-China. The CPI was characterised by its line of national democracy which meant that anti-imperialist anti-monopoly sections of the the Indian bourgeoisie — the national bourgeoisie represented by the Nehru-led Congress — shall take the lead in India’s democratic transformation and the Communist Party’s task is to back it against the monopoly sections of the Indian bourgeoisie and, at best, to play the role of a pressure group against the vacillation of the national bourgeoisie. The CPI(M), on the other hand, was characterised by its line of people’s democracy which rejected any alliance with the Nehru Congress, putting stress on building popular mass movements, and peasant struggles in particular.
Regarding the path of revolution, the CPI advocated gaining a majority in Parliament as the only viable option, the CPI(M) accepted only a limited role for parliamentary democracy where communists may assume governmental power at most in certain states. And such power, the CPI(M) argued, should be utilised to make people conscious of the limitations of the bourgeois state system and thus to sharpen the class struggle. Hence the slogan "Left government is the weapon of class struggle."
Revolutionary communists were naturally all part of the CPI(M) when the division came in 1964. Since its inception, however, the CPI(M) leadership started exhibiting vacillations on each of these questions and therefore an inner-Party struggle ensued right from the beginning. The well known Eight Writings of Comrade Charu Mazumdar best epitomise this struggle from 1965 to 1967. With the formation of the first United Front government in West Bengal, revolutionary aspirations of the rank and file rose everywhere and land struggles broke out in different parts of West Bengal. In Naxalbari area in particular, this struggle rose to higher levels and confronted the state machinery. Under threats from the central government, the CPI(M)-dominated government resorted to bloody suppression of the movement in order to save the government. This sparked off protests throughout the Party. While several state committees like those of U.P., Delhi, Jammu and Kashmir walked out of the Party, many others like AP, Bihar and West Bengal suffered major splits at all levels.
Communist revolutionary forces first organised themselves in the All-India Coordination Committee of Communist Revolutionaries (AICCCR) which later evolved into the CPI(ML). The CPI(M) suffered yet another split in the early ’80s when followers of the erstwhile general secretary, P. Sundaraiya, disassociated themselves from the Party to form the MCPI. The CPI(M) continues to face minor splits and every time the question revolves around the 1964 programme. In its first phase, the CPI(ML) began with the rejection of all bourgeois institutions and gave a call to wage armed struggle for building base areas on the classical pattern of Chinese revolution. The Indian communist movement had long been debating the relevance of the Russian path vs. the Chinese path, and this time it was decided to clinch the issue once and for all without stopping midway as in the wake of the Telangana struggle.
The CPI(ML)-led armed struggle in the late ’60s and early ’70s will be remembered in the history of the Indian communist movement as the most serious attempt so far to organise armed revolution in India. This saga of valour where thousands and thousands of Party leaders and cadres, including the topmost leadership sacrificed their lives at the altar of the Indian revolution forms an important heritage of Indian communist movement that must be cherished for the sake of future attempts. The armed struggle however suffered serious setbacks and the Party too got spilt into umpteen factions. All attempts to revive the movement along the old lines and also to unify the Party proved futile. Several factions got submerged into the mire of opportunism and degeneration while a few evolved into full-fledged anarchist groups, People’s War being the foremost among them. It was only our faction which kept aflame the torch of Naxalbari in Bhojpur of Bihar in the most difficult periods and when virtually all other groups got disintegrated, it reorganised itself step by step and after a painstaking struggle for over a decade revived the Party and the movement once again on a national scale.
Our Party, basing itself on Marxist dialectics, had learnt that a movement is never revived on the basis of old slogans. The Party also made a deep study of the new phase the movement had entered and took particular note of the fact of its reemergence in Bihar, a Hindi-speaking area. In the course of reorganisation, the Party developed and adopted a set of flexible policies and tactics, made gradual and cautious adjustments with bourgeois institutions and initiated several new and bold experiments. To get rid of serious anarchist tendencies, the Party emphasised its roots in the Indian communist movement and decided to carry forward the struggle between two tactical lines within the mainstream left and communist movement in a new form.
To develop effective resistance against the opportunist tactical line, it has also displayed the flexibility of appropriating within the revolutionary framework certain popular slogans of the mainstream Left. Our Party has done it successfully while upholding its principles, preserving its independence and maintaining its unity. This has facilitated a greater interaction with other parties of the Left and forging closer ties with them. In the process, left ranks, disgusted with their opportunist leadership, have been increasingly coming under our fold.
With the Calcutta Congress, our Party has reached a new stage and a much greater role is demanded from it in the field of Marxist theory as well as in terms of unification of the Indian left and communist movement and most importantly in consolidating the left core within nationwide democratic struggles.
International Communist Movement: The CPI(M) which had started with a pro-China identity, soon developed the theory of equi-distance from both Soviet Union and China. Though no socialist camp existed after the Sino-Soviet split, it continued to uphold the socialist camp led by Soviet Union. The Party did oppose Khruschev revisionism but it refused to accept Mao’s theory regarding dangers of capitalist restoration in socialist countries through a process of peaceful evolution. The CPI(M) went on supporting the superpower status of Soviet Union and its social imperialist attacks like invasion of Czechoslovakia and Afghanistan. This "export of revolution" was justified by CPI(M) leaders as proletarian internationalism and they moved quite close to the Brezhnev regime, considered by far the most corrupt regime in the history of the Soviet Union.
It rejected all criticism of the Soviet Union as imperialist propaganda and harped constantly on the theory of CIA machinations and other external threats to Soviet socialism. Having rejected on the theoretical plane Mao’s brilliant analysis of peaceful evolution towards capitalism from within the socialist society, the Party perhaps had little other option. But all its theoretical jugglery stood exposed in the face of the collapse of socialism in Soviet Union. And it was not merely a collapse of socialism, the whole Soviet empire collapsed like a house of cards in face of the nationalist upsurge in the East European countries.
The collapse of Soviet Union has also brought about the collapse of the CPI(M)’s excellently balanced theory of equi-distance and the party has now moved closer to China. And in relation to China it is again repeating the same ‘proletarian solidarity’ where an incident like the Tiananmen tragedy is described and understood as resulting from external causes and CIA machinations.
Though the CPI(M) leaders now sometimes talk of certain internal causes behind the Soviet collapse, they have singularly failed to grasp the dynamics of capitalist restoration. At the level of practical politics, they have not been able to grasp the crucial link between hegemonic acts of the Soviet superpower and its eventual disintegration along nationalist-ethnic lines.
In the Great Debate, our Party firmly supported Mao’s positions against Khruschev’s revisionism and in true internationalist spirit it supported a socialist China. Our support to China may have suffered from over-enthusiasm but it had nothing to do with any sort of export or import of revolution, for Mao always sharply criticised the Soviet Union on this very question. Similarity, our criticism of the Soviet Union and its social-imperialist acts may have suffered from excesses in describing the whole system as social-imperialism and in holding the Soviet superpower as the more dangerous between the two superpowers. However, our criticism of Soviet Union on the question of capitalist restoration as well as our opposition to its hegemonic activities has been vindicated by subsequent history.
China, today, is not engaged in any debate over Marxist fundamentals, nor is it facing any imperialist encirclement. The Indian ruling classes too are no longer hostile to China. It is engaged in new experiments of building socialism which need to be studied carefully and critically. Moreover, after the demise of Soviet Union the question of socialist democracy has assumed much greater importance and a socialist system today must excel over bourgeois democracy. For all these reasons, we believe in judging China independently as one of the socialist countries making experiments with socialist economy suited to Chinese conditions. While broadly supporting Chinese socialism, we do reserve the right to criticise one or the other of its specific policies, particularly on the question of socialist democracy. We have definitely and correctly moved somewhat away from China. We believe however that this may set a new pattern of fraternal relations among Communist parties, more frank and more open.
In the new world situation, the general line of international communist movement (ICM) can only be that of extending support to socialist countries and the working class movements in developed capitalist countries, opposition to imperialism in general and US imperialism in particular, and upholding the decisive role of the liberation struggles of Third World countries. The course of events has compelled communists throughout the world to veer more or less around such a general line of ICM.
In the early ’60s a great debate raged in the Indian communist movement regarding the programme of the Indian revolution popularly known as the struggle between NDR (National Democratic Revolution) and PDR (People’s Democratic Revolution). The line of national democratic revolution was influenced externally by the Khruschev thesis of non-capitalist path of development and internally by Nehru’s espousal of mixed economy. This line, which relied on the national bourgeoisie’s (i.e. Nehru-led Congress’) anti-imperialist, anti-monopoly, anti-feudal role and hoped for India’s eventual transition to socialism with the help of passive Soviet aid to the Indian public sector, was officially adopted by the CPI and it turned the Party into an appendage of the Congress. In contrast to this the line of PDR insisted on taking the Congress as the main enemy, considered Nehru’s mixed economy to be nothing but a euphemism for capitalism and emphasised that strong feudal remnants still remained the main obstacle to India’s development. The CPI(M) leadership opted for PDR but its positions were vague from the very beginning. For example, it said that with the attainment of India’s freedom one stage of democratic revolution was over. This can only mean that the anti-imperialist aspect of democratic revolution is basically completed whereas the anti-feudal aspect still remains. It was this formulation that led to the party’s branding of India’s foreign policy as progressive with internal policies remaining reactionary. The party, therefore, supported India’s foreign policies for a long time, more so as these policies coincided with the Soviet foreign policy perceptions. It was only when the myth cherished by the party about the Soviet Union taking on the might of America collapsed like a house of cards that its illusions about India’s anti-imperialist policy too received a cruel setback. Since the ’80s, India has been increasingly taking openly pro-imperialist positions in foreign policy. While the CPI(M) finds itself hard-pressed to explain this transformation, these overt changes in India’s foreign policy have firmly established the CPI(ML) position that anti-imperialism continues to remain the foremost task of India’s democratic revolution.
The revolutionary section in CPI refused to get carried away by the nationalist hysteria against China in 1962 and even in 1965 during the Indo-Pakistan war, left communists condemned the ruling classes. However, since the 1971 Bangladesh war the CPI(M) has turned an ardent supporter of the lndian ruling classes’ approach towards neighbouring countries, particularly towards Pakistan. It refuses to recognise that being the biggest country in the South Asian region, India does cherish regional hegemonic ambitions. Supporting the chauvinism of one’s ruling classes has always been the most characteristic feature of revisionism everywhere. A firm and consistent opposition to the regional hegemonism of the Indian ruling classes must therefore be an integral item on the agenda of India’s democratic revolution and it goes without saying that a party pursuing national chauvinistic policy can never lead the democratic revolution.
The CPI(ML) has all along opposed all manifestations of Indian domination over its smaller neighbouring countries and we consider this as the litmus test of proletarian internationalism, a test much more crucial than supporting Cuba, South Africa or Palestine.
The CPI(M)’s formulation about the Indian bourgeoisie was that it is increasingly compromising with imperialism. Implicit here was the assumption that the Indian bourgeoisie is essentially an independent bourgeoisie with only traits of vacillation and compromise. Like the CPI it also harboured the illusion of the public sector playing the role of a countervailing force to the private sector controlled by the big bourgeoisie and started supporting nationalisation measures, like bank nationalisation resorted to by Indira Gandhi, as something of a struggle against the big bourgeoisie.
These positions led to political cooperation with the Congress at several critical junctures, like siding with Indira Congress against the Syndicate, supporting the Congress candidate in the last presidential election, and the recent advocacy of an anti-BJP secular front with the Congress(I). With the new economic policy of the Indian government pursued at the behest of the World Bank and IMF, questions were raised once again within the CPI(M) about the essential character of the Indian bourgeoisie. In its last congress, a proposal even came to designate the Indian bourgeoisie as comprador, which was rejected by the leadership.
The party’s whole opportunism revolves around the formulation of "utilising the contradictions within and among the ruling classes to change the social balance of forces". The scope of this utilisation was highly exaggerated, so much so that it became the party’s main focus. This has led to the party’s submergence deep into the quagmire of bourgeois politics and political intrigues, and its important party leaders remain busy negotiating with and mediating between the upper layer of bourgeois politicians.
In the realm of tactics, the CPI(M) paid the greatest of attention to developing alliances with regional and centrist opposition parties like DMK, Telugu Desam, Janata Dal, Akali Dal etc. At the altar of such alliances, it sacrificed the struggles of poor peasants against the kulak classes who form the main social basis of such parties. Nowhere, therefore, is the party to be found in the forefront of either anti-feudal struggles or the newly developing class struggles in the countryside. The very basis of the people’s democratic revolution has thus been thoroughly undermined. The whole thrust of the party’s democratic programme has just been reduced to general democratic phrases like federalism, more power to the states, decentralisation of power to panchayats and so on and so forth.
The CPI(ML), on the other hand, redefined people’s democracy on the basis of Mao’s guideline of New Democracy. It characterised India as a semi-colony, meaning thereby that although imperialism does not directly control the state power in India, it still has enough clout to influence and direct the policies of the Indian state. And it does this through the Indian bourgeoisie which is basically dependent in nature. All its relative independence – its bargaining capacity between different imperialist powers — is subject to this overall framework of dependence. It has therefore been the firm belief of the CPI(ML) since its inception that the Indian bourgeoisie is no longer capable of bringing about any substantial democratic transformation and the proletariat should take the leadership in its own hand. Ours has been a constant endeavour to expose the hypocrisy of the Indian rulers, both in their external relations as well as internal policies. This has enabled our Party to maintain the strict line of demarcation with the Indian ruling classes and to emerge as the champion of consistent democracy.
The CPI(ML) has all along put utmost emphasis on anti-feudal struggles in the countryside, as well as on the class struggle of agrarian labour and poor peasants against kulaks in the post-green revolution phase.
The CPI(ML) has taken up all issues of democracy from civil rights to federalism and has sought to build the broadest possible democratic alliance. But while so doing, it has always laid stress on maintaining its class independence and political initiative.
In our current polemics with the CPI(M), our sharp criticism is against tailism and our consistent emphasis is on independent left assertion and on left unity based on class actions of workers and peasants — these are not questions of abstract principles or just some tactical measures. These are the essential ingredients of our preparation for People’s Democratic Revolution and unless one grasps this, one can never grasp the struggle between the two tactics of people’s democracy in India.
The debate among Marxists and revisionists over the peaceful transfer of power through obtaining a majority in bourgeois parliament is quite old. This debate was supposed to have been settled long back, after Lenin effectively demolished the arguments of Bernstien and Mensheviks. Moreover, in real life too, whereas revisionists in Western Europe degenerated into social-democrats and turned into appendages of the bourgeois political system, the communists in Russia and China led successful revolutions. The question was, however, revived once again in the early ’60s by Khruschev under the pretext of the ‘new situation’ characterised by a radical change in balance of forces with the emergence of a mighty socialist camp. It was argued that socialism, thus, was quite capable of defeating imperialism in a peaceful competition and therefore new opportunities had also opened up before communists to strive for a peaceful transition of power through parliamentary means. The threat of a nuclear war was also invoked to justify the ‘peaceful competition’ and the ‘peaceful transition’.
In India, the CPI was found to be a readymade taker of this line of thought and it officially adopted what is called the parliamentary path where sole emphasis is placed on winning more and more number of seats in parliament and eventually to gain a majority and thus power. Parliamentary majority remains as elusive to CPI as ever. Meanwhile the very citadel of ‘peaceful competition’ has crumbled and CPI has virtually been reduced to a social-democratic party.
Marxist-Leninists the world over rejected the parliamentary path propounded by Khruschev and in India this had been a major factor behind CPI(M)’s split from CPI. CPI(M) advocated combination of parliamentary and extra-parliamentary struggles. It rejected the possibility of gaining power through a parliamentary majority. Gaining power in certain states through elections was considered a plausible option. The condition was that the party must go into the government only where it was the leading force or at least capable of influencing the course of the government. The governmental power here was distinguished from the state-power and the specific task of the party was to explain to people about the limitations of the governmental power within the bourgeois state system. It was presumed that this will enable the party to raise the political consciousness of the masses and prepare them for an onslaught against the bourgeois state. It was precisely in this sense that a left government will serve as the weapon of class struggle.
Experiences of the communist government in Kerala in 1957 had shown that the central power would not allow such a government to function and this would further provide an opportunity to expose the hypocrisy of the parliamentary system and, thus to clear the ground for people’s democratic revolution.
This was how the party ranks conceived the division between CPI and CPI(M) as regards parliamentary struggles.
The CPI(M), riding on the crest of a powerful mass movement, and amidst revolutionary rhetoric did come to power in West Bengal in 1967. The coalition proved short-lived. The success in 1969 too could not last long and the state was put under a reign of white terror till 1977. The present Left Front government came into power in 1977 due to a peculiar turn of events in national politics, when ironically mass movements in the state were subdued and the CPI(M)’s party organisation was in an immobile state. Since then in the last 16 years or so the ruling Cong(I) at the Centre has stuck to the rules of the parliamentary game and there has hardly been an occasion when any serious attempt has been made by the central power to overthrow the Left Front government. Slogans such as ‘Left Front government is the weapon of class struggle’ and the rhetoric of confrontation with the Centre have been silently dropped from the party’s vocabulary. Instead of exposing the hypocrisy of the bourgeois parliament, the emphasis has now shifted to extolling the virtues of ‘people’s representative institutions’ and highlighting the unique model of retaining power for such a long spell within the bourgeois state system. The way the party is flirting with various bourgeois formations to increase the number of seats in assemblies and parliament, and even contemplating the share of power in central government through the NF-LF combination, clearly shows that the party is well entrenched in the parliamentary path.
Revolutionary communists at Naxalbari raised the banner of revolt with the first signs of CPI(M)’s parliamentary cretinism becoming apparent, and subsequently CPI(ML) was organised which rejected the parliamentary path. Within the CPI(ML), however, the debate over rejecting parliamentary struggles altogether had never stopped. Incidentally, this has also been a major contentious issue among Marxist-Leninists all through the communist movement in the international arena. The CPI(ML) has always rejected the parliamentary path, i.e. seizure of power through obtaining majority in the bourgeois parliament. But on the utilisation of parliamentary struggles it has evolved, in due course, a comprehensive and flexible approach. The CPI(ML) bases itself on the Marxist-Leninist premise of combining parliamentary struggle with extra-parliamentary struggle, where the latter plays the primary role. At the same time, as Marxist-Leninist tactics, the Party neither rules out boycott of elections in the situation of revolutionary upsurge nor negates the possibility of according elections a very special role in times of retreat. More so, when Indian objective conditions do provide the possibility of forming communist-led governments in this or that state, it is imperative for the Party to explore this opportunity and provide an alternative model of a left government that shall really function as a weapon of class struggle.
In the debate on Russian Vs. Chinese path, the Party opted for the Chinese path, which meant that the red political power should be estabilished in the countryside and through building a powerful red army to encircle and eventually liberate the cities. As the Party embarked upon this course, it was obvious that participation in elections was out of the question for the entire stage of revolution and thus election boycott was given a strategic connotation.
After more than a decade of experiments with the Chinese path, the Party summed up its experiences and came to the conclusion that it was wrong to blindly copy the classical Chinese model in Indian conditions. The point is to integrate Marxism-Leninism and Mao’s thought to concrete Indian conditions. As there was no parliament in China there was no question of parliamentary struggles there. Indian conditions are different and therefore while it was correct to boycott elections in the earlier phase of advance and in the particular context of charting out a new revolutionary course, Indian communists cannot and should not reject the parliamentary struggle forever. Thus the election boycott was made a tactical question. The Party continues to put primary emphasis on the countryside and on developing the militant resistance of peasantry. In a certain political situation such vast areas backed by the might of people’s armed forces may develop into parallel power centres, drastically altering the balance of forces at the national scale.
The Party firmly rejects the parliamentary path and in its recently held 5th Congress it has reiterated that in the final analysis only armed struggle shall decide the outcome of Indian revolution. Based on this fundamental premise, the Party will continue to experiment with various forms of combinations of parliamentary and extra-parliamentary struggles in different stages of revolution, in order to chart out the Indian path of revolution.